Governor Signs The Arc’s ‘Justice Act’ Into Law – First Big Step Toward a Major Shift in Law Enforcement

For decades The Arc of California has fought for incremental steps to protect adults and children with intellectual and developmental disabilities from crime and violence that victimizes so many in our community, and last week we won a big victory.

Governor Newsom on Tuesday signed Senate Bill 338 by Senator Ben Hueso of San Diego, the Senior and Disability Justice Act, sponsored by The Arc California along with the California Alliance for Retired Americans and the McGeorge School of Law’s Elder Law Clinic.

Senator Hueso’s SB 338 earlier passed the Legislature without a single “no” vote.

The bill, which is now law, will begin a culture shift within law enforcement agencies and their response to crimes against people with disabilities, including:

  • Extensive training of every officer, with advanced training for specialists in every agency.
  • Mandatory investigation of: every report of elder or “dependent adult” (disability) abuse; every report of a person with a disability or a older adult victimized by sexual assault, domestic violence, human trafficking, child abuse, or a hate crime; and every report of interference with a mandated report
  • Mandatory investigation including an autopsy in every unexplained or suspicious death of an adult or child with a disability or an elder.
  • Mandatory arrests and emergency protective orders whenever necessary or advisable to protect the victims or others.
  • Outreach to the disability and aging communities to encourage crime reporting and assure them that the law enforcement agencies take every report seriously.
  • Specific accountability procedures for each law enforcement agency responsibility.

(For a full description, see subdivision (c) of Penal Code Section 368.8, starting a bit more than half way down Page 5 of the bill: http://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billNavClient.xhtml?bill_id=201920200SB338.)

To help the passage of the bill, we formed a wide support coalition of aging and disability community groups and some law enforcement groups. Crucially, we found a strong legislator, Senator Hueso, to carry the bill for us. He introduced it on February 19, 2019.

The legislative strategy that we developed with Senator Hueso and our fellow sponsoring groups minimized the chances of the bill dying along the way. By avoiding making it a state mandate on local law enforcement agencies, we avoided sending the bill to the Senate and Assembly Appropriations Committees, the Capitol’s graveyard committees. Instead, we had the bill say that when any local law enforcement agency that adopts or amends an elder and “dependent adult” abuse policy or a broader senior and disability victimization policy the they must include everything we spelled out in the bill.

Then bill will take effect on the unlikely date of April 13, 2021. This gives the state Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) the full 18 months they said they need to develop a model senior and disability victimization policy that law enforcement agencies can adopt. The POST model policy will include, but not be limited to, everything in the bill.

POST’s protocol for developing materials of this sort includes working closely with subject-matter experts. Senator Hueso is asking POST to include us and the bill’s other sponsors in this process. Critically, POST always includes law enforcement agencies in the process too, which should assure that the final product works technically for the agencies that we want to adopt it.

Once POST develops its model policy, we and the other sponsors and supporters will begin the hard process of convincing the local law enforcement agencies to adopt it with any additions they choose to include.

With unanimous support from the Legislature and Governor’s signature for SB 338 this year and a solid POST model policy in 18 months, we may be within distant but clear sight of a revolutionary change for the better.

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